IRIS

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Chapter 36

Jo twisted her coffee mug on the table and stared at it. She didn’t touch her omelette and toast either.

“Is there a problem with your coffee?” Amanda said.

She looked up with a puzzled look. “No, why?”

“You’ve been staring at your coffee for some time now like it will magically turn into a pumpkin or something absolutely insane. What’s bothering you, Jo?”

“I can’t say… why are you still here? Aren’t you supposed to be leaving for work by now?”

Amanda laughed. “You, my dear friend, advised me to take a break— so I did. I’m taking time off, but I’ll be on call if needed. So aren’t you gonna tell me what’s wrong?”

“I want to… but I can’t.”

“Is it about Justin?”

“No… yes… partly…” Jo closed her eyes. “Okay, but this is about Alex… and Justin too. Do you still want to hear about it?”

“Sure, I can’t let you go psycho with your thoughts if it bothers you. Spit it out, Jo.”

“I saw Alex last night.”

“So?”

“Justin took me to this tavern in Hell’s Kitchen. It wasn’t like all the other places we used to go to— it’s nothing special, compared to a lot of good bars in Hell’s Kitchen. When we entered, Alex was there… alone, like he was waiting for someone.”

“What’s your point, Jo?”

“Wait— let me finish. Okay, when I saw Alex, I think I felt that he was expecting us or Justin… like there’s something in the way they looked at each other. I said hello to him, but Justin pulled me away, and said he thought Alex wanted to be alone. Then a few minutes after, Alex walked out of the bar. Don’t tell me that’s not weird.”

“Hold that thought… around eight last night, I got a call from Agatha. What time did you see Alex at the bar?”

“Around the same time.”

“Agatha called to let me know that she’s with Alex— like a boyfriend, and that he gave her a collar. She also bragged about her feverish butt because Alex whipped her. Then just before she hung up, I heard Alex’s voice in the background.” Tears flowed from her eyes. “And you know what? Agatha lives in Hell’s Kitchen.”

“What the hell? Alex is with Agatha now? Has he gone insane?”

“I don’t know what to think anymore. All I know is, it’s over between us. He can be with whoever he pleases. If Agatha tickled his fancy… then…” She laughed. “Yeah, I think it’s weird, but what does Justin have to do with that?”

“Beats me, but I’m positively sure there was an unspoken message when they looked at each other.”

“What? Are they gay now?”

Jo laughed. “I don’t know… I sure hope not.”

“What does Justin do? Where does he work?”

“He said he manages a security agency, but never gave me details. He never even talked about his job.”

“This puzzle have too many missing pieces. You’d probably turn that coffee mug into a pumpkin faster than solving this riddle.” Amanda sipped her coffee and forked a sausage.

“Do you think I should ask Justin about it?”

“You could try,” she said, and stuffed a big slice of sausage in her mouth when her phone rang.

It was Val. She hurriedly chewed up and swallowed before she picked up.

“Hey, Val, good morning, what’s up?” she got up and reached for her water tumbler as she listened. “Sure, we’ll be there, Val, thanks for the invite.” She smiled and hung up.

“Party?” Jo said, as she gobbled her omelette.

“Yes, Val invited us to Thanksgiving at her place. I almost forgot about the holidays.”

“People like us with no families often forget the holidays, like it’s just an ordinary day. So, are we going?”

“Yeah, I can’t refuse Val, you know. Besides, I don’t think Alex will be there. He’ll avoid me like the plague.”

“Hey, why don’t we go shopping?” Jo said.

“Sure, I’d like to buy something to bring Val for Thanksgiving.”

“What day is Thanksgiving again?”

“It’s on Thursday.”

“Okay, so that’s two days away.”

“That’s enough puzzle solving for the day, okay? Shall we go shopping now?”

“Gee, can’t wait to spend, can you?”

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